Political polarization in U.S. highest in two decades: Poll

By a wide variety of measures, Americans are more politically polarized today than at at any point during the last two decades, according to a poll released Thursday by the Pew Research Center.

That ideological divide reveals itself in a number of ways, according to the survey, from peoples' opinions on the issues to their view of those with opposing viewpoints. Some people are even determining where they would like to live, in part, based on an area's dominant political ideology.

The percentage of Americans whose opinions are consistently conservative or consistently liberal has more than doubled over the last 20 years, from 10 percent to 21 percent.

Consequently, the ideological common ground between the two parties has eroded: 92 percent of Republicans are more conservative than the median Democrat, and 94 percent of Democrats are more liberal than the median Republican. In 1994, those numbers were 70 percent and 64 percent, respectively.

Each group also holds the other in very low esteem. 38 percent of Democrats today have a very unfavorable view of the Republican Party. 27 percent go so far as to say the GOP is a "threat to the nation's wellbeing."

Republicans are even more hostile to their opponents, with 43 percent viewing Democrats very unfavorably, and 36 percent calling them a threat to the nation's wellbeing.

And among the most consistently conservative respondents, 50 percent said it's important to them to live in a place where people share their political views. 35 percent of consistently liberal respondents agreed.

63 percent of consistent conservatives also said most of their friends share their political views, and 49 percent of consistent liberals said the same.

Despite the growth of political polarization, Pew notes, the country isn't quite coming apart at the seams. A majority of Americans remain in the middle of the ideological spectrum. Most do not see either party as an existential threat to the country's wellbeing, and they continue to believe their representatives should compromise on contentious issues instead of toeing the line.

Still, those in the center can't hope to make an impact on American politics if they don't play the game: Ideologically committed voters on either side far more likely to vote or contribute to political campaigns than their middle-of-the-road brethren.

For the poll, Pew surveyed 10,013 adults via telephone between January and March of this year. A subset of those respondents participated in a longitudinal panel study.

The poll carries a margin of error of plus or minus 1.1 percent.

  • Jake Miller

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